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THE MACE FRANCIS ORCHESTRA IS HAVING A 15th BIRTHDAY BASH AND YOU’RE INVITED!

Mace Francis Orchestra - photo by Six String Photography
Mace Francis Orchestra - photo by Six String Photography

Fourteen of Perth’s finest musicians are celebrating fifteen years of original Australian jazz music and big band togetherness, hosting two special events in August and October.

There was a really funny moment where he said that the band could play anything they wanted. He stopped the band after about a minute and said, “You can play anything you want, except for that!”

The MFO has commissioned over forty new works from Australian and international composers and released a steady stream of recordings since its inception in 2005. Its aim is to experiment with composition in the style of the great modern big bands lead by Bob Brookmeyer, Thad Jones, Bill Holman and Maria Schneider. The outfit’s most recent album, Music for Average Photography, was awarded the 2015 APRA AMCOS Art Music Award for Jazz Work of the Year.

Composer and arranger, Mace Francis, leads the ensemble, comprised of a sonorous blend of the cream of the crop of Perth’s jazz scene, with WA Academy of Performing Arts students and members of the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra. With four national tours and a host of stunning performances with international jazz legends under their belt, the MFO are ready to celebrate! Around the Sound’s Aminah Hughes chatted with Francis about the journey.

You’ve been going strong for 15 years. Your line-up includes players from WAAPA and WAYJO. Have you retained any original members?
Yes, I have retained five original members, which is such an honour (Ricki Malet on trumpet, Ben Collins on alto sax, Mark Sprogowski on baritone sax, Catherine Noblet on trombone and Greg Brenton on drums). I find it difficult to imagine the band without their musicianship and personality. Over the years we have all become busier and developed more life responsibilities and I’m so grateful that everyone takes the time to get together to make my music come alive. Catherine moved to the US to study for a while but luckily for me she came to her senses and moved back. It has been great to have her back in the band.

When people think big band they expect to hear a lot of classic standards. How receptive have you found audiences to contemporary composition?
I’m not going to lie. People have walked out of our gigs because they were expecting “In The Mood” by Glenn Miller and I am sure it will happen again but over time audiences have come to know what to expect from an MFO show. We used to play a few of the classic standards on some shows but the band ultimately became a vehicle for original, contemporary music. The big band is a very versatile ensemble which can play lots of styles of music; it is an ensemble of instruments and musicians, not a style or genre. Once listeners understand that, they usually enjoy what we have to present.


You’ve done a lot of touring. What’s your favourite city to play in and why?
Perth, of course! Touring was a lot of fun. The whole process of being on the road was a blast, just like the old days of the touring big bands in the US. On the bus/off the bus, very little sleep, a lot of laughs and feeling the music get better and better every night – a dream come true. I hope we can do it again someday.

You’ve performed with some of the biggest international names in jazz.  What were some of your performing highlights over the years?
One of the international guest performance highlights was with big band composer and drummer John Hollenbeck. He has released some of the most innovative big band albums in recent times and we were lucky enough to work with him, to perform his music while he was in Perth, with vocalist Theo Bleckmann. There was a really funny moment where he said that the band could play anything they wanted. He stopped the band after about a minute and said, “You can play anything you want, except for that!”

Six albums is no mean feat. Any plans in the pipeline for another?
Of course! I have been writing new music for these birthday celebrations. The plan is to record the concerts, then get into the studio in 2021. We hope to be releasing a new album by the end of next year. Stay tuned!

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MACE FRANCIS ORCHESTRA 15TH BIRTHDAY SHOW TICKET INFORMATION

Date: Thursday, 20 August, 7:30pm
Venue: Goodwill Club – The Rechabite
Address: 224 William Street, Northbridge WA 6003
Price: $17.29 + BF
Tickets here.

Date: Thursday, 22 October, 7:30pm
Venue: Goodwill Club – The Rechabite
Address: 224 William Street, Northbridge WA 6003
Price: $17.29 + BF
Tickets here

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